One year ago today, former abortionist Dr. Bernard Nathanson died of of cancer at the age of 84. A founding member of NARAL (originally known as the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws), Nathanson helped come up with some of their favorite slogans, such as “Safe and legal is every woman’s right!” and “Who decides? You decide!”
“I remember laughing when we made those slogans up,” Nathanson recalled years later, after a dramatic public departure from the abortion business in 1979 involving the revelation of the industry’s trade secrets.
In the 2002 Pro-Life Infonet article “National Abortion Rights Action League Founder Reminisces,” Nathanson described the pro-abortion movement’s efforts:
“We persuaded the media that the cause of permissive abortion was a liberal, enlightened, sophisticated one,” recalls the movement’s co-founder. “Knowing that if a true poll were taken, we would be soundly defeated, we simply fabricated the results of fictional polls. We announced to the media that we had taken polls and that 60 percent of Americans were in favor of permissive abortion. We aroused enough sympathy to sell our program of permissive abortion by fabricating the number of illegal abortions done annually in the U.S. The actual figure was approaching 100,000, but the figure we gave to the media repeatedly was 1,000,000.”
Once abortion-related legal precedents were set in 1973, Nathanson got to work. He operated the largest abortion clinic in the Western world and was responsible for the deaths of 75,000 unborn babies. That is more people than the entire city of Bismarck, North Dakota.
Nathanson was an atheist who had been raised in an emotionally cold environment. Success was important; a conscience was not. His experience with abortion was personal. In his 1996 autobiography, The Hand of God, Nathanson admitted he helped procure an illegal abortion for a girlfriend and later performed one himself on a second girlfriend. After aborting his own child, the only emotion he felt was pride at a job well done.
Nathanson abandoned the path of lies and began walking the pro-life road while he was still an atheist. With the advent of new ultrasound technology in the Seventies came the advent of his conscience. He saw the humanity of the innocent pre-born babies, fighting for life in their mother’s wombs. Surely it was one part technology and one part prayer that opened Nathanson’s eyes and heart — not his prayers but those of the faithful. The daily prayers of the faithful to end to abortion and convert those in the abortion industry had found their mark.
He remained an atheist for another ten years after becoming pro-life in 1979. Working alongside men and women with an infinite love of God and humanity eventually warmed his heart. Nathanson credited his conversion to an Operation Rescue event (when hundreds blocked traffic by sitting down in front of a New York Planned Parenthood building) with giving him the realization that such passion could only be coming from a higher call. The heavily Catholic character of the pro-life movement influenced him to embrace the Catholic faith. Cardinal John O’Connor baptized Nathanson in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in December of 1996.
Like Norma McCorvey, the Roe in Roe v. Wade, and more recently Abby Johnson who in 2009 quit her job as a Planned Parenthood Director, the Catholic presence and love within the pro-life movement has converted key people who were once enemies of life. The testimonies from such influential insiders have taught us some very important lessons:
- Prayer and the examples of love and courage can change hearts.
- Even when it feels like our prayers are not accomplishing anything obvious at the moment, they are powerful.
- Like St. Paul, some people within the pro-abortion movement really believe in what they are doing, that they are helping women. They need our love and prayers.